Theater News

Countess Cynthia von Buhler Invites You to Her Speakeasy Dollhouse

A murder scene is brought to life in this immersive investigation of the strange circumstances surrounding the actual death of the playwright’s grandfather.

A scene from <I>Speakeasy Dollhouse</I>.
A scene from Speakeasy Dollhouse.

Here is your chance to solve a 78-year-old murder. Artist and author Cynthia von Buhler (born Cynthia Carrozza) has recreated the circumstances surrounding the mysterious death of her Italian immigrant grandfather, speakeasy owner Frank Spano, in Speakeasy Dollhouse. This interactive theatrical presentation will take place at a secret location on Manhattan’s Lower East Side every first Saturday and Monday of the month, now extended through June.

Von Buhler’s grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, eventually opening two speakeasies in the Bronx during the height of prohibition. In 1935, on the same day her mother was born, her grandfather was shot on a street in Manhattan and the murder remains unsolved.

In her obsession, Von Buhler built a detailed diorama of the crime scene as part of a 1940s investigative technique called “nutshell studies.” That diorama became the inspiration for Speakeasy Dollhouse, a full-sized realization of the crime scene using actors, burlesque dancers, real moonshine, and you.

Audience members are emailed clues and news articles relating to Spano’s death before the night of the performance. A secret password gains entry to the speakeasy, where the audience is encouraged to explore, eavesdrop, and generally insert themselves into the story. As the website suggests, “Ignore the advice your parents gave you as children, be nosy and talk to strangers.”

Von Buhler has worked variously as a sculptor, painter, playwright, musician, and children’s author. Her books include The Cat Who Wouldn’t Come Inside and But Who Will Bell The Cats? You can see her elaborate doll set-ups for Speakeasy Dollhouse in the Kickstarter video below: